This week on The Back Burner we’re presenting recipes from around the world. I’m choosing to feature a bar in Columbus, Ohio. Which depending where you live might not seem too far around the world. But sometimes, as Dorothy Gale might say, “…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” Because this bar and this bartender surprised me. Which is my bad, and I vow never to let my big city assumptions color how I think about cocktail culture in America again.
I live in Los Angeles. Backroom speakeasies. Craft cocktails. Handmade bitters. These are the things that define cocktail culture in LA. But it wasn’t always that way. Because there’s a revolution going on in the culinary world and it’s hero is booze. Really good booze. The trend is following the same path as the foodie revolution of the 1980s. The time when people began to look at dinner as more than mere sustenance. It started at edges of the country in cities like LA and New York but it didn’t take long for the word “fusion” to take on a new meaning all across this country. Columbus, Ohio is no exception.
Like the frisée salad before it, carefully constructed, pre-Prohibition era-inspired craft cocktails are becoming big business. And it’s happening everywhere. Don’t tell Carrie Bradshaw but splashing a neutral spirit with something red and calling it a cocktail is quickly going the way of the VCR. Craft cocktails are the new hallmark. Small-batch spirits, unusual liqueurs, housemade syrups and a bitters for every occasion. This is what’s in our glasses these days and Columbus, Ohio is right on board with a master mixologist of their own. Travis Owens.
I’ve spent some time recently in Columbus and sampled a great many of their bars. While this trend towards craft cocktails can be seen at other establishments. It seems to me that no one is embracing this chic, slightly retro style of cocktailing in Columbus, Ohio at quite the same level of sophistication as Travis Owens. However the venue might surprise you– it’s neither a backroom or in any strict sense a speakeasy. Though it is attached to a very unlikely establishment. A pizzeria. Curio @ Harvest Pizzeria.
I spent some time at Curio and on one of those occasions got to watch Mr. Owens in action. His cocktails are all impeccably made. They often sport witty names like Blood & Smoke. Some are riffs on classics and most have a bit of understated southern charm. Making Curio the coolest place in Columbus. From what I can see the crowds are drinking this place up. I’m pleased to say I’ve never seen such a high-end bunch of lowlifes.